6. Chapter 6: Man and Elf
Man and Elf
I ceased walking at a short distance from him, listening to that one, whispered word. Nimîr. A greeting, perhaps. Or, in his language unknown to me, a word for what I was.
"I do not speak the tongue of Men."
My voice was low, a murmur in the wind. I regretted not being able to explain, to tell him that now he was safe. That I could cure his wound more easily than the healers of his people could.
He bowed his head. I did not expect it when he spoke, because it was my language that came from his mouth.
"Greetings, my lady. Forgive my ignorance. I know but little."
His voice was different from that of an Elf, less harsh than the Dùnadan's. It was deep, and had a quality of smoothness to it. His accent was strange, very unlike the chanting of my Silvan people, or the rounded speech of the Noldor. I bowed my head in return.
"Forgive the brisk manner of my arrival. The Orc drew closer."
"I owe you my life."
"It is nothing to save in a war. Every life is in peril."
"I hope one day to repay this gift."
The ghost of a possibility hung on the air. I could have repeated that it was nothing, I could have been courteous, and gone away. Disappeared, nothing but a memory to speak of as the brief days of his life drew ever on. But I was curious. It's the small desires that lose us, I've said that before. But I did not know it then. I had not learnt. And when I did, it was too late.
"Tell me your name."
Surprise, again. But now smiling lightly he let his hood fall, and his words were falling water when he said: "Forgive my rudeness. I am Faramir, son of Denethor, the Steward of Gondor. I am the captain of the rangers of Ithilien."
"I am Mìriel, of the Elves of this land."
I looked at him, and he was different from everything I had ever seen. Beauty in a bodily shape means nothing to Elves, for all of us are fair; and love strikes us in looking upon something that to us is strange and charming, fitting answer in some fashion to a question we have always asked. Elven beauty does not decline, but it grows deep and pensive in the long years of our life, it acquires shades, as the sea changes colour as the sun treads his path.
How could an Elf find a human fair? There have been Men, especially in the Old Days, who were beautiful to look upon, and stories are made of them; Adanedhel was called Tùrin son of Hùrin, the Elf-Man, and Beren his kinsman won Luthien whose beauty exceeded the boundaries of Middle Earth. But even in them we saw fairness as a transient quality, a shining ray before the long twilight of their old age. The beauty of Men is sad to gaze at, for it is frail, and soon lost. Unlike the trees, they have but one spring, and it passes too soon.
And yet when for the first time I looked at Faramir, son of Denethor, I understood what an Elf could see in a mortal face, what sadness and wisdom, what terrible strength: the strength of a kind forever renewed, passing from generation to generation, like leaves on a tree; and there was no meanness on his face, just a melancholy infinitely different from the sadness of Elves, for he had but a short life to rejoice, and the cloud of a past grief shaded him. And there was kindness in his eyes, grace in his voice; how could Men grow evil, that had these eyes?
I looked away. Handsome he was, too, fair-haired and fair-skinned, and with blue-green eyes; but that was but an afterthought in my mind. I saw his arm, still uncovered, and the jagged line of a cut upon it.
"Let me tend your wound."
He said nothing, but offered his arm, and with the balm I brought with me, the medicine every hunter of the woods knows how to brew and preserve, I cleaned it.
"It will not fester," I said, "You shall heal quickly."
There was a sound in the trees, betraying someone trying to be stealthy, and failing; I counted the steps, and there were three walking in the shadow beneath the leaves. The companions of the Man were coming back. Behind his shoulder, the moon was rising, pale face of drowned warrior as the stars grew dim.
"Your rangers approach. I take my leave, Faramir son of Denethor."
The line of the trees was close, closer than I remembered as I reached him in long steps. Away; and what would he become but a remembrance in a long life, the shadow of a story to recount in yet far times, when of this Man would remain nothing but ash and rock.
"Shall I ever see you again, Mìriel of the Elves?"
He had talked in whispers, perhaps asking the night, perhaps himself; but my ears heard him, and my body turned, my voice answering before I could think.
"Long are the valleys of Ithilien, Child of Men, and countless the paths. Yet for long years I have trodden them, and if here you walk, I will see you again before the Sun of your life has set."
The Men were nearer, the black of the sky now a faded ink. Before he could reply, I disappeared.
Thus I met Faramir, Captain of Ithilien, and for long days and months afterwards I thought again about that night rarely, and in wonder. Unreal it was to me, its lines the uncertain contours of a dream. By day I walked, I laboured, I fought to preserve the land that was to me mother and father before the time grew late; by night I dreamt of a life past, and I awoke with my heart torn.
It was chance that brought again the Man on my path, a chance that to this day refuses to be called unlucky or blessed; the chance of a night when the shadow of Mordor was deep and heavy upon the land, and the sky low, a burden and not an infinite plain.
In shadow I found him, and since then in shadow, although I did not understand it, I have walked.
Sweet was the voice of the stream when I bent over its waters to drink. The leaves where falling, an autumn drew nearer that had in his hand the whips of a winter made of ice. The sages of my family shook their heads, said that soon, soon would the messengers of Thranduil king come to call us back. Two years we had been there; and to an Elf another two would be a short time.
Every morning felt like the last as our despair grew, running over earth, hiding in the leaves, bringing death to the Orcs. That night had fallen far too soon, the sun had gone down without waiting. He had left me stranded over the hills, and quick were my steps as I hurried home.
I thought of evenings as dark as this, before I found the light of the peace Legolas had brought me. Raising my voice in defiance of the clouds pregnant with malice I sang a song, a song of green light and clean water and running feet, a song of deep halls carved into the earth, and clear love under the dome of unblighted skies. Singing I walked, and as I went my heart swelled with power, and I thought my song could reach over land and river and tree, to touch the spirit of the far prince who held half of me. Long are the songs of the Elves of the wood, and yet even they have an end; and when mine came I was under a crest of deep rock, and raising my eyes I saw a figure cut neatly against the firmament.
He was gazing at me intently; now he turned and called with a sound that imitated the chirping of a day bird. Another call similar to his answered. In the time required for him to do this, I could have gone; but I did not, held in my place by the same intuition, the same unthinking response that in the first night we had met had brought that answer to my lips.
I stayed, as he carefully chose his path down among the rocks on the flank of the hill. Lingering until he came close to me, the faded light casting deep shadows beneath his eyebrows. His eyes were invisible.
"Your words did not lie, my lady. Again I meet you."
"Well found, son of Denethor."
Silence fell, a silence as thick as the cloud of a first evil, long ago in forgotten tales. I shivered.
"It is not well to linger in the open. Come with me, Mìriel of the Elves."
We sat in the cover of a rock deeply cut in the hill, and there stayed, as the shadow gathered and the night lengthened. We sat apart, and in the darkness that grew I could not see him, only listen to his voice. We spoke of many things as the stars circled unseen above the clouds, and another world that knew not of sullying kept following its eternal path.
The hours were light, and when darkness was relieved by a shy day, only then did I rise.
"The sun will soon shine upon these roads, Faramir, Captain of Ithilien. I have to go back."
"The same can be said for me, my lady."
Now, in the light that strengthened with every new moment, I looked at him again. Keen Eldarin eyes can see the changes a few months bring to a mortal face, and yet with that time his young features had grown, more defined now in wisdom and strength. And there still sat that eternal sadness no words seemed to change.
"Shall I ever see you again, Mìriel of the Elves?"
I smiled. "Once already you asked this of me, Faramir, son of Denethor. Chance brought us together again, and yet I expect its ways are too lengthy for the short time of Men."
The conscience of his mortality was clear in his eyes, but still he struggled and smiled back. "I have not all eternity at my disposal. And yet for what of this time is given us, I wish we could meet and speak together again."
It's the simple desires that destroy us, showing themselves as paths pleasant to follow; a desire for a kin mind in an hour of shadow, a solace to the heart when absence is too keen. Men pass, Elves remain. Of their time imperfect and doomed sometimes we have thought we could dispose at will. Every time we have been proved wrong; and yet we have never learnt.
"Your wish is mine, son of Denethor."